1-10: Why did he have a gun?

[I consult and consider many sources in search of appropriate subject matter for this blog. Often I find material that is best left (mostly) untouched by me, e.g., today’s piece reported by Jay Weaver, Kyra Gurney, and Jim Wyss at the Miami Herald.]

[Wars Cause PTSD. Whether tomorrow, a decade from now, or 30 years down the line, the war experience today will torture a soldier’s mind. It is not necessary to argue, debate, or fight about our reason(s) for going to war; it is the act of war that attacks the psyche. End the wars, end the suffering.]

The Miami Herald’s first reporting on the horrific shooting at a Florida airport this weekend bore this headline:

Airport shooter had mental health problems but no apparent ties to terrorism

I guess this falls into the bad news-bad news category. Given what we know so far about the perpetrator of this horrendous shooting spree, incredulity surpasses knowledge. In the coming days we can expect one of two reactions from the National Rifle Association, utter silence or contorted circumlocution about the right to bear arms and their go-to gibberish about a slippery slope. The Herald story begins,

Esteban Santiago told the FBI in Alaska two months ago that he was hearing voices [1st mental health reference] urging him to join an Islamic terrorist group, but federal agents scouring the social media postings of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooter have found no evidence linking his deadly rampage to terrorism.

Law enforcement sources said [1st law enforcement reference] that since the 26-year-old opened fire in the airport on Friday — killing five people and injuring six others — agents have discovered no information on Facebook and other online sites to suggest the Iraq war veteran [1st vet reference] was radicalized by the Islamic State or any other terrorist organization.

… a profile has emerged …

Instead, a profile has emerged of a mentally disturbed [2nd mental health reference] military veteran [2nd vet reference] who boarded a plane on a one-way Delta ticket from Anchorage via Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale to take deadly aim at fellow travelers in a baggage claim area. Investigators have no idea why he chose Fort Lauderdale as his target….

But Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, who is working with the FBI on the airport shooting, [2nd law enforcement reference] pointed to mental health problems [3rd mental health reference] rather than to any terrorist connection in evaluating what set off Santiago.

I fully understand concerns of terrorism when public acts of violence rip apart our senses of decency and liberty. But I do not understand how a person with so much overt psychological and criminal baggage escapes into our midst to be discovered only after the slaughter of innocence. Yes, “a profile has emerged”; it was ignored; it emerged; it festered. It exploded.

“Something has to change,” Israel said Sunday on Channel 10 News’ This Week in South Florida. “People who are suffering from mental illness [4th mental health reference] should not be allowed, in my opinion, to purchase or have firearms at any time.” [3rd law enforcement reference] …

In the airport shooting, Santiago used a handgun that he retrieved from Anchorage police last month. Officers confiscated it in November [4th law enforcement reference] while he underwent a psychiatric evaluation [5th mental health reference]. The FBI had referred Santiago to Anchorage authorities [5th law enforcement reference] after he told them he was being pressured by the CIA to join the Islamic State militant organization and watch training videos.

Santiago was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center for a psychiatric evaluation [6th mental health reference], then transferred to the state-operated Alaska Psychiatric Institute. He was treated for a few days but received no follow-up therapy or medication, according to a family member.

… but they gave him back his gun!

Despite the alarming nature of his statements to the FBI, Santiago was not placed on any law enforcement watch lists or on the federal “no-fly” list [6th law enforcement reference].

Santiago’s semi-automatic firearm, a Walther 9mm — along with two magazines — was his only piece of checked luggage on the flight. After claiming it, he loaded the handgun in the bathroom of the baggage claim area, exited and opened fire….

Much of the investigation into Santiago [7th law enforcement reference] has centered on Anchorage, where he lived …

FBI and local investigators [8th law enforcement reference] flooded the residential community to search for evidence and question neighbors, who have been rocked by the news. Marlin Ritzman, the Anchorage FBI special agent in charge, said agents searched Santiago’s home and another Anchorage location: the Qupqugiaq Inn, a long-term rental accommodation where Santiago apparently recently stayed.

After a domestic disturbance last year in which Peterson told police he tried to strangle her [9th law enforcement reference], Santiago was forbidden from being in contact with her, according to a domestic violence complaint. Although Santiago violated that court order by living with her again, the case was dismissed [10th law enforcement reference] as long as he stayed out of trouble, according to the New York Times. Anchorage police responded to more domestic calls, but officers did not arrest him [11th law enforcement reference].

Do not Speculate.

The final two paragraphs of this piece summarize Esteban Santiago’s military service. I fear that the casual reader will infer from “was an Iraq War vet” that he has PTSD, which therefore explains everything. We simply have no way of knowing that. What troubles me is that he served from 2007 to 2016 and mustered out at the rank of PFC. Had he been promoted and then busted? Or, why did the military keep him so long if they did not deem him promotable?

Santiago, a former Army private first class, was an Iraq War vet who also served in Puerto Rico and Alaska between December 2007 and August 2016, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead of the Alaska National Guard [3rd vet reference].

Santiago served in Alaska for less than two years [4th vet reference], starting Nov. 21, 2014, and received a “general discharge” from the Alaska Guard on Aug. 16, 2016, “for unsatisfactory performance.” Olmstead did not elaborate….

Rest in Peace

Shirley Timmons, Terry Andres, Olga Woltering, Michael Oehme, (fifth Victim’s name unknown as of this writing)

*****

The illustration at the blog’s top is the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. The blogger is a Vietnam Veteran, 1966-67. He is an author and past state chaplain for a major veterans organization. He welcomes comments on posts and encourages readers to subscribe to PTSDOutreach.com; two points: 1) it is free, 2) posts appear directly in your e-mail in-box.

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